Obama names Sperling to top economic job
US President Barack Obama will on Friday tap expertise polished in the fondly remembered Clinton-era economic boom years with the choice of policy veteran Gene Sperling for a top White House job.
The move will be the latest step in a staff shuffle that has seen Obama refresh his economic and political teams to meet a strong challenge from resurgent Republicans as he prepares to build a 2012 reelection campaign.
Sperling is a veteran of divided government battles with Republicans during then-president Bill Clinton’s administration — and his promotion comes as Obama faces a similar political scenario after November’s mid-term elections.
Officials said he would be made director of the National Economic Council — a post he held in the second Clinton term, at a time of explosive growth, centrist economic policy, balanced budgets and an eventual budget surplus.
Obama will also promote Jason Furman, currently a White House economic aide, to the post of assistant to the president for economic policy and principal deputy director of the NEC, officials said.
Currently, Obama faces a pitched battle with Republicans, who now control the House of Representatives, over a 1.3-trillion-dollar deficit, a slowly recovering economy and unemployment of 9.8 percent.
Obama will make the announcements at a factory that makes energy-efficient windows in suburban Maryland, on a day when officials hope to get good news from December unemployment figures.
Critics accuse Obama of pursuing big-government, liberal economic policies and of harboring a distrust of big business — an impression the administration has taken steps to counter in recent weeks.
Sperling’s credentials also include a period as NEC deputy leader, in Clinton’s first term when Republicans seized Congress and took aim at a first-term Democratic president — a situation with similarities to Obama’s.
On the international front, he was a key negotiator in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and was also on the US team that conducted grueling World Trade Organization accession talks with China.
He is renowned in Washington for his work ethic — he was once dubbed “Gene the Machine” — and is familiar to sometimes-fazed reporters for his enthusiastic and exhaustive briefings on the trickiest of economic topics.
Sperling, 52, who has been working for Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, already has been deeply involved in aspects of Obama’s stewardship of the economy, as it battles back from the worst economic recession since the 1930s.
He was a key player in the compromise late last year with Republicans on extending tax cuts passed under the administration of ex-president George W. Bush, in a package including help for the unemployed and stimulatory measures.
Sperling also worked with a presidential task force, now credited with reviving the American auto industry, and has been behind some of Obama’s efforts to boost small businesses and spur hiring by a key motor of the economy.
The NEC is one of various bodies that provides economic counsel to the president, ensuring that policy is framed consistent with his wider goals, and is carried out effectively.
He will take over from another Clinton-era veteran, Lawrence Summers, the former Treasury secretary and academic economist who has left the White House after two draining years battling the financial meltdown.
But Sperling will not be without familiar colleagues.
On Thursday, Obama made another member of Clinton’s economic team, ex-commerce secretary William Daley, his chief of staff.
Clinton’s budget director Jacob Lew meanwhile has taken up the same job for the current president.
In announcing Daley’s nomination, Obama stressed his job-creating credentials.
Daley, 62, is seen as a centrist, and his appointment will be viewed as an olive branch to the business community, with which he has had a rocky relationship.
It was immediately welcomed by the US Chamber of Commerce, which has spent two years in an uneasy state of confrontation with Obama.
“Bill Daley is a man of stature and extraordinary experience in government, business, trade negotiations, and global affairs,” said the chamber’s president and chief executive Thomas Donohue.
But liberals were dismayed that a man who worked for finance giants JPMorgan Chase was now a key player in Obama’s team.